by Philip Wegmann
For a half-century, anti-abortion protestors have traveled from across the country to Washington for the March for Life, an annual demonstration that starts on the National Mall and traditionally ends at the steps of the United States Supreme Court.
Now, for the first time in 50 years, the route will change. Organizers say they will start in the same place, but they won’t march to the high court. “It is more important that we finish at the U.S. Capitol,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Defense and Education Fund, which has organized the march since 1974, told RealClearPolitics. Noting that in the wake of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, the question has been returned “to our elected officials and to the people through their elected officials.”
A symbolic change, the demonstration before Congress also reflects a necessary new strategy on the part of the anti-abortion movement. Mancini said the march will celebrate the reversal of Roe, “but also mark the start of a new leg on our journey towards building a culture of life.”
Among other things, that means defending the Hyde Amendment, a measure banning federal abortion funding, and staving off the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill expanding abortion access. It also comes at a moment when the debate over this contentious issue is right where most pro-life forces have long insisted they wanted it – before elected officials, and not the courts.
To the pro-choice side, however, this is a case of “be careful what you wish for.” Inside the White House, the Dobbs decision was viewed as an unexpected midsummer windfall. Democratic Party candidates running in this year’s midterms are attempting to turn the election into a referendum on abortion. On the Republican side of the aisle, the GOP leadership would rather avoid the issue and focus on fiscal matters where they believe they hold the advantage.
When Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced a bill to ban most abortions after 15 weeks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell demurred, telling reporters that “most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level.” The South Carolina Republican shot back in an interview with RCP that “pro-life people are not going to go away” and telling those voters “‘don’t come talk to us in Washington,’ is not the right answer.”
Either way, they are coming to Congress on January 20.
Mancini announced that former NFL coach Tony Dungy will headline the event. On Twitter, Dungy, who won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts, wrote that he was “just doing what the Lord asked us to do.” Asked if former President Donald Trump or Vice President Mike Pence would speak like they have in years past, Mancini noted that as a 501(c)(3), her organization cannot extend invitations to political candidates.
The midterms will be over by the time of the march, and by then at least one political question will be answered: Did overturning Roe help Republicans or cost them a chance at retaking their congressional majorities? Pence, who became the first vice president to attend the march in person, told RCP the issue transcends all election considerations and “is profoundly more important than any short-term politics.”
Despite the risk touted by various GOP political consultants, the former vice president insisted that the abortion issue, specifically a national ban, would not harm Republican chances of taking Congress. His bet? That a celebrating conservative base will blunt the enthusiasm of liberal voters going to the polls to protest the reversal of Roe.
“I’m convinced,” Pence told RCP, “that enthusiasm among pro-life Americans in states across the country is equal to, or greater than, any new motivation by people that support abortion rights.”
The polling is mixed. A recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that motivation is growing among Democrats who live in red states that have restricted abortion. Nearly 70% of Democrats reported that they were more likely to vote because of the Supreme Court decision, compared to 49% of independents and just 32% of Republicans.
Democrats have leaned into the issue. “Right now, we’re short a handful of votes,” President Biden said last week of the effort to codify Roe. “The only way it’s going to happen is if the American people make it happen.”
And yet, despite the uptick in Democratic 2022 prospects because of the issue, abortion does not register as a key issue to most voters. A Gallup survey found that just 4% of Americans ranked abortion as the country’s “most important problem.” Inflation and the economy, meanwhile, remain the top concern in public opinion polls.
All the same, Kevin Roberts, the president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, stressed the historical significance of the decision to overturn Roe, telling RCP that the landmark 1973 case is “right up there” with the infamous Dred Scott decision. Roberts, who hosted the March for Life organization on the Heritage campus Thursday to preview the event, said conservatives should not shrink from the abortion debate.
“I’ve been frustrated, but not surprised, that too many elected Republicans have wanted to run away from this,” he told RCP, before adding that elected officials needed to know that the ultimate goal of the pro-life movement is to make “abortion illegal in this country.”
“And they don’t like to hear that or at least some of them don’t. I understand it may take yet another 50 years to accomplish that,” Roberts added. “But the March in January has the opportunity for us to really plant that flag.”
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Philip Wegmann is a writer for RealClearPolitics.
Photo “Pro-Life Generation Poster” by James McNellis. CC BY 2.0.